Ruth Marie Kennedy Gorman, 94, of Afton, Virginia, died on January 1, 2024, in Charlottesville, Virginia, just one day shy of her 95th birthday.
Ruth was born on 2, January 1929, in Swampscott, Massachusetts, the second of three children of Leonard and Agnes Kennedy. From an early age, Ruth was a gifted student, and became proficient at the piano and organ, serving as organist at St. John’s church in Swampscott for many years.
Ruth’s academic prowess earned her a full scholarship to Radcliffe College. She graduated cum laude in 1950 and obtained a master’s degree in teaching from the Harvard School of Education, magna cum laude, in 1951. She taught high school in New Jersey for a year before returning to Boston to teach Social Studies at Boston University. At that point in her life, Ruth, who’d never traveled too far from her small town (except for some study in Wisconsin), was well positioned for an academic career, but fate intervened when she attended the wedding of her childhood friend, Mary Gorman, in 1953. There she fell into conversation with Mary’s older brother, Paul, a young second lieutenant in the army. She and Paul married on June 7, 1954, and Ruth’s adventures and travels as a career military spouse began.
The couple’s first assignment was at West Point, where Paul was teaching. Ruth enjoyed their time in NY but was anxious to start a family. Through Paul’s family connections, she sought fertility treatment, which was not widely available. From New York, the young couple moved to Quantico, Virginia, and Ruth became pregnant with their first son, John. It was 1958, and Paul had orders to Germany, but due to vaccine requirements for entry, Ruth elected to stay in Swampscott to give birth. In 1959, she and baby John joined Paul in Ulm, Germany, but received news that they’d be immediately relocating to Heilbronn, Germany. The next move was to Stuttgart, then on to Fort Leavenworth Kansas. Ruth gave birth to their daughter Sarah there in April of 1962, and that summer the family of four moved to Annandale, Virginia, where Paul took a position at the Pentagon. The family would spend about 6 years total in Annandale–the longest time spent in one place until Paul’s retirement. Ruth found herself among neighbors that would become dear friends and support for the years Paul spent away at war.
In 1964 Ruth gave birth to son Tim. In 1966, Paul left his family for his first year-long tour in Vietnam. Suddenly, Ruth was a single parent of kids aged two, four, and seven. Her children were mostly oblivious to the gravity of the situation and enjoyed spending more time in Swampscott with grandparents and cousins. When they were much older, Ruth would tell them about the severe headaches and other symptoms of stress she was experiencing during that time.
Thankfully, Ruth’s first turn as the lone parent was rewarded with a posting to Paris, France for two years. She loved the city and took the children on frequent excursions in and around Paris, as well as to other countries in Europe. But in 1970, Paul was off to another tour of Vietnam, so Ruth returned with their kids to Annandale, where she again kept her stress and anxiety to herself and made sure that her children were spared any negative impact due to their father’s absence.
Paul returned to his family in 1971, was promoted to Brigadier General, and moved the family to Fort Benning, Georgia. Now a general officer’s wife, Ruth’s organizational skills, as well as her caring and generous nature, flourished as she became involved in the Officer’s Wives Club, supporting military spouses wherever they were stationed. Her involvement in that organization lasted until Paul’s retirement from the service.
Ruth’s culinary skills began to blossom as well, as she took on added responsibilities for entertaining at the General’s quarters. Ask any of her children about the holiday and birthday meals that Ruth served up over the years–she inspired the gourmet in all of us, and in the soldiers, friends and relatives that were often invited to the table.
In 1973, the Gormans were off to Fort Carson in Colorado, where, at the age of 44, Ruth took up skiing–the family continued to take ski trips into the 1980’s, and Ruth could snowplow with the best of them!
In 1974, the family landed at Fort Monroe, in Hampton, Virginia. In 1977, son John entered the University of Virginia, and the rest of the family moved to Bad Krueznach, Germany. Ruth loved being back in Europe, and insisted the family once again take to the roads and railways to see as much of the continent as they could.
In 1979 the family returned to Northern Virginia and purchased a house in McLean. Over the next three years, Paul reached the rank of Lieutenant General, and Tim and Sarah left home for college. With all three children now out of the house, the last military move took Ruth to Panama City, Panama, where Paul got his fourth star and became Commander in Chief of the U.S. Southern Command. Ruth’s duties and responsibilities related to entertaining dignitaries reached a pinnacle, but thankfully she finally had a full kitchen staff to support her! As always, she also took advantage of the ability to travel throughout the region and delighted in opportunities to support women-run businesses in several Central American countries.
Although Paul was offered another position when his assignment in Panama was finished, he had promised Ruth that they would finally purchase the forever home she had been dreaming of, and he did not let her down. She could finally contemplate the true “last move.” (For anyone keeping score, that’s 16 moves so far, 12 of them with kids in tow.) Ruth had always handled the family finances and had parlayed their original investment in houses in Annandale and McLean into a healthy downpayment for their last purchase. Her dream of owning a farmhouse surrounded by a four-board white fence was realized when they found their future home in Afton, Virginia, the farm that they named Cardinal Point. There, Ruth and Paul (along with much help from their son John, the Architect) created a forever home for her family that, no doubt, had some effect on all three kids choosing to live in the area. Ruth’s hospitality was legendary, and extended to children’s friends as well, although sometimes she didn’t know all the details. Suffice it to say, there were some epic parties at Cardinal Point.
One of the biggest joys of Ruth’s “retired” life was the arrival of grandchildren. She gladly served as primary babysitter and would extend that service to pets as well. So much so that at least one “granddog” would respond enthusiastically to the phrase “going to Grammy’s!” She also ran the cattle and vineyard enterprise that she and Paul started on the property and helped daughter Sarah with bookkeeping when the family decided to go into wine production. She was extremely proud of the work her son Tim did on the property as vineyard manager and winemaker, and she, like so many, loved the wines he made.
After suffering a series of strokes that left her unable to do many daily tasks, she and Paul made the difficult decision in 2014 to move to an assisted living facility. As she lost mobility, they had to relocate to yet another facility, where they ended up living in 3 different apartments. (For those who are counting, that’s another 4 moves, to bring her total to 20.) People often use words like “kind,” “gracious, " and ”generous,” to describe Ruth, but her family would always add “resilient.” Furthermore, her children will attest that, despite their own shortcomings, Ruth Gorman was a flawless role model. She was as devoted to her family as she was to the Catholic church and lived a truly moral life.
Ruth is predeceased by her parents, Leonard and Agnes, her sister Barbara, her brother Nelson, and nephew Thomas. She is survived by her loving husband Paul, her life partner and caregiver and protector as her health declined, her children, John, Sarah, and Tim, her daughters in law Brenda and Susan, her beloved grandchildren, Sam, Max, and Zach, and much-loved in-laws, nieces, and nephews. She also leaves behind hundreds of relatives, friends, and strangers, living and dead, whose lives were touched by her kindness, compassion, and care.
The Family would like to thank the staffs at Rosewood Village, Hollymead, and the Hospice of the Piedmont for the care that they provided for Ruth.
A mass will be said in Ruth’s honor at St. Thomas Acquinas Church, Charlottesville, on Saturday, January 20, at 2:00 p.m. A reception in the church hall will be held immediately following the service. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorial contributions be made to the Alzheimer’s Association or Hospice of the Piedmont.